“What do I want to do when I grow up?” That was the question Jan St. George asked herself in 2005 after suddenly quitting her 30-year career as a paralegal. When she saw an ad for a part-time job at Whiz Kids, she knew she had to apply.
“Within two weeks I was happier than I’d been in forever,” she recalled.
Five years later Jan became the owner, and has since made this specialty retail toy store all her own. From classic toys that inspire trips down memory lane to trendy toys like pop-it fidgets, there’s something for everyone. Jan is especially happy to see so many people buying science kits for little girls these days.
One thing you’ll see plenty of when perusing her store is plush. “I’m a plush kid, always have been,” Jan shared. “It’s one of our bestsellers.”
Growing up, Jan would spend countless hours playing with her stuffed animals, letting her imagination soar. She’d expertly line up the dining room chairs so her animals could “ride the train.” Other times, she’d perform plays or have tea parties with them.
In the evenings, Jan and her mom would play Scrabble or Yahtzee and read together. At the time, she didn’t realize she was learning because she was having so much fun. That’s Jan’s philosophy with toy buying: fun with a learning angle.
Jan prides herself on carrying toys that will last and be played with for years – toys that you won’t find at big retail places. The ultimate compliment is when she hears out-of-towners say, “We love your store. We don’t have anything like this!”
Jan’s location on the third level of River Park Square in downtown Spokane has always been ideal. Many professionals swing by on their lunch hours to de-stress if they’re having a bad day. Moviegoers at the AMC Theatre pop in to shop before and after movies. And for parents with young kids, the adventure of riding the escalator up to the third level is a treat in and of itself!
Of course, everything changed in 2020 when the pandemic hit. For Jan, the hardest part has been not getting hugged. She has so many loyal “regulars” where hugs are their typical greeting.
“There are times I see someone I’d normally hug and my whole body shakes and I’m almost in tears because I want to give them a hug so bad, but I can’t,” Jan shared.
A silver lining has been the enormous community support she’s received. Over and over, especially during the holiday season, Jan would hear customers say: “We want to shop local.” When Whiz Kids was closed for over two months with limited curbside, people would buy significant purchases – much more than they needed, Jan suspects – to help keep them afloat.
“The Spokane and surrounding areas have been wonderful to us,” Jan said. “My heart just keeps exploding. I’m so grateful.”
Jan is excited to be in Phase 3, where up to 33 customers can be inside the store at a time. What she’s missed the most is seeing grandparents interact with their grandchildren, the smiles and pure joy on their faces.
She hopes to have the store’s train table, Calico Critters play house, puppet house, and beloved marble run (a grandparent and kid favorite) back on the floor for people to enjoy by the summer.
“Downtown is perking up and becoming more alive,” Jan said. “The streets have people in them. It’s nice to see people back.”